Support for the Adoptive Parent

A while back, our family attended a music rehearsal led by Bill. I entered the building after everyone else to find my daughter sitting separated from all the other kids, looking very pitiful. When my husband told the kids to sing, she was one of the first ones to stand, singing with a smile and boisterously doing all the motions. I went to my daughter and let her know she was to sit and not sing. After she sat, another mom, who had already been watching my daughter with sympathy, stuck out her bottom lip, stared stonily for the remainder of rehearsal, and went out of her way to talk to my daughter afterward but not to me.

Some of you may feel as though that mother was justified. Our behavior toward our daughter looked pretty darn harsh.

But I’ll fill you in on the rest of the story.

In the hour and a half my daughter had been awake that morning, she’d broken the rules six times. Each time, my husband asked her what she’d done, and with a look of defiance she’d answered him correctly point blank with no sign of regret. Each time, Bill reassured her that we loved her but that we couldn’t let her to act this way or disobey. Finally, he told her she wasn’t allowed to sing for rehearsal that morning. She would be allowed again next time, but on a day where she was already bent toward defiance, it wasn’t going to work. That was it.

Neither of us told her she had to be separated from her friends. Neither of us told her she couldn’t talk to anyone or play or laugh or have fun. She just couldn’t sing. So what did she do when we got to rehearsal? She separated herself from everyone and then sang proudly.

This is what my daughter does. When she believes she can get sympathy from others, she’ll jump at the chance, even giving up things she enjoys to do so. She’s a master manipulator. Many adopted children are.

Is my daughter more evil than my other children? NO! Manipulating is simply her main struggle, and it has to be dealt with in a unique way. We don’t hate her. I’d already wept for my daughter that morning and was close to tears during the whole rehearsal. My heart breaks for her. I want good for her. But so far she hasn’t accepted that good. And we don’t believe she’s going to accept it if we give in to her every personal whim or stop correcting her and let her do her own thing or allow her to continue to believe she can control other’s emotions for her own personal gain.

So why this story if I’m focusing on supporting the adoptive parent? Because I need you to know that you’ll see us do many things while parenting our children, but you’ll rarely have the full story. This is true whether we’re dealing with adoption or not. But when it comes to manipulation, the point is usually to make themselves look as pitiful as ever and make their parents look as wrong as ever. And it’s easy for adopted children because they’re adopted. Most people automatically have the feels for them and show them special attention anyway. And the kids know their parents are under the microscope. The observers may be there out of curiosity, support, or judgement, but they’re always there.

Many times you’ll think we’re being too harsh with them or being unfair. And sometimes you’ll be right in your assumption, because unfortunately that’s often the case. But if you’re concerned, I implore you to simply ask us. We’re usually glad for an opportunity to share our struggles. We, like our children, are desperate for a listening ear, for a friend who wants to understand and who loves us even when we screw it all up.

Because I’ll give you another inside story. Almost every adoptive parent is in a state of shock. Some of us handle it better than others (I’m definitely an other), but we’ve all had a wake-up call. We’re terrified, our shoulders are tensed, and we lose much sleep.

We don’t know what we’re doing. We judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else ever could. We doubt our decision to adopt in the first place. We wonder if our kids wouldn’t have been better off staying where they were than being cursed with us as their parents.

One word dominates our thoughts: Failure.

And we’re never going to tell you any of this because we see how much you sympathize with our child, how much you love her. And we love you for it. But we also believe you’ll automatically assume the worst in us if we ever open up to you because of your sympathy toward them. So while our friends are working to make our child feel included, we as parents become more and more isolated and lonely.

So how can you support the adoptive parent? First and foremost, work for understanding. Listen to your friend, and if your friend is anything like me, understand she’ll only talk to you about the bad, hers and her child’s. Know this isn’t descriptive of most of their life. She’s actually done tons of awesome things as an adoptive mom, she’s grown tremendously, and she and her child are much closer and improved since day one. Sometimes they flat out enjoy each other. But she’ll be too guarded to tell you any of that because she’ll always be on the brink of losing hope. She won’t be able to see the good because she’ll only be able to see the dominating word of failure.

So listen, but not just to the words the parent says. Listen to everything, knowing there’s so much more to the story. If you’ve seen good God’s worked in them, tell them. Don’t make things up or say, “I’m sure that…”, but be specific with real observations. Know that every glare, even if not meant for them, can crush them for days at a time.

Most important, encourage them in the truth of the gospel. Remind them that all their failures were already paid for on the cross. Remind them that their child has a perfect Father and that you’re unable to ruin them or make them great. Remind them that they’re perfectly loved, and nothing can separate them from the love of Christ Jesus, even their own failings.

And it doesn’t hurt for you to remind them you love them, too.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable
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Sin in the Adopted Child

Adoption stinks. I’m not denying the beauty and redemption that can be part of it, but if we think of adoption like Snuggle the fabric softener bear, we’ve seriously missed the point. Adoption only happens because a child’s birth parents aren’t caring for them anymore. This may be a result of death, imprisonment, abuse, neglect, voluntarily surrendering parental rights, or yes, sadly, even false/over-the-top/unjust accusations of the parents.

Not exactly cause for a happy dance. And the kids know it.

So it’s probably needless to say that the children who have had to go through this have many broken emotions with a wider range than I could possible list in one post. My two newest are no exception. And from these emotions come a gigantic range of unhealthy behaviors.

The general way society and experts want us to deal with these behaviors is a mash-up of simply accepting the behaviors as part of the personality of the child and thus ignoring it, or if the behavior is physically harmful, redirecting and discussing, with the end goal of building self-esteem. Discipline should be kept to a bare minimum for these behaviors, and it’s questionable if it should happen at all.

Here’s how that would play out in one example (like a case study–fun!). Food issues are huge with many adopted children. Two of the more common reasons for this are because they were malnourished and live fearfully that they won’t eat the next meal, or that food was the only constant they had in the midst of utter chaos. In either instance, it’s easy for the children to scarf their food, talk about food constantly, eat more than they should, steal, or hoard.

Generally in this instance, you’d be told to simply keep providing as much food for them as they want until they eventually feel secure in your provision, or they begin to feel constants in other areas of their lives, all the while assuring them that they don’t have to worry anymore. You need to explain to them why they have these struggles, that it’s not their fault, and that there’s nothing wrong with them.

Here’s what you’re not supposed to say: Putting our hope in anything other than Jesus, even food, is a sin.

Lest that sound harsh, hear me out. I do not think the moment our children walk in the door for the first time and show unhealthy behaviors that we jump in their faces yelling, “SINNER! SINNER! SINNER!” while sticking our tongues out. We need to sympathize with them, show more grace than we’ve maybe ever shown, understand this is going to be a long process, be quick to display patience, and most importantly, remember your own sinfulness and how much of you is a work in progress. But that can’t be the end of the story. We can’t brush idolatry under the rug simply because we don’t want to make a kid feel bad. We can’t deny the lordship of Jesus for our children because it might be emotionally damaging–as if such a thing were even possible!

I used the topic of food as my example purposefully, and it’s not just because my two newest children do in fact struggle in this area. I was raised in a healthy, stable, two-parent home, and I turn to food instead of Jesus daily. I know it’s a sin, I know it’s despicable, and yet I continue to do the things I hate. I use this example because I want to show this is not about “telling our kids how it is and to just stop it.” It’s about helping them see a Jesus who is much more worthy to crave than anything else. It’s about walking with them each moment of the day to show them truth and shine light on darkness, much like my church, friends, and family do with me concerning my food obsession.

The community who hold me accountable don’t, however, tell me that my behaviors are okay. Because they aren’t. They don’t avoid my sin to make sure I don’t feel bad about myself. They don’t let me sin a little because it’s been a life-long struggle and a little sin never hurt anyone. Because a little sin in the Garden of Eden destroyed a whole world. They speak the truth to me in love and walk this hard road right alongside me.

I believe the same process needs to happen with our children who have had the crappiest lives, the worst upbringing, and who likely have no real clue who this Jesus is. Don’t coddle them. Most have been lied to their whole lives. Show them dignity by letting them know the truth. Tell them that what they’re doing is sin against a righteous God. Discipline them lovingly and appropriately when they continue to chase after cheap idols like food or sex or violence or pride or hate or lies or jealousy or greed or, yes, even self-esteem. Know that they won’t change maybe for many years, but walk the arduous, long path with them, knowing you have a mediator walking with you who will intercede on your behalf to the Father until the day he comes back for us.

The best hope we have to offer in the face of whatever baggage these kids bring with them is this: Jesus is better.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Loving the Unlovable

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)

The richness of this passage is one of the main reasons Bill and I began the adoption process. While were still his enemy and completely deserving his righteous judgement, Christ died for us. After his death was the resurrection, giving life to those who put their hope and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. With that life comes almost the most unbelievable part–we are now joint-heirs with Jesus, adopted as sons and daughters of God himself. So now, the enemies of God inherit the very kingdom of that same God, as his beloved children.

If that’s been done for me, how can I possibly not turn around and adopt children far more innocent than I am? How can I not give them an inheritance, a family, and a true belonging they wouldn’t have otherwise?

So we adopted. We were excited. We love children, wanted more, and couldn’t wait to add to our numbers. It was going to be great.

Except it wasn’t.

As much as we love children generally, we quickly realized just how much we prefer our bio kids to other kids. Our two new children looked different, smelled different, sounded different, and acted very, very different. And to be completely honest and put myself out there in a terrifying way, we didn’t and still don’t love them in the same way we love our original six.

I hate saying it more than almost anything else. Because they’re beautiful. Because they can’t help the way they were raised or the terrible things that happened to them. Because I should be able to extend the same grace and love to them that’s been extended to me. But as of today, my heart still isn’t there. I’m a sinner who doesn’t really believe the truth of the passage quoted above. I think I deserve my inheritance because I’ve worked so hard to earn God’s love, and in the same way I expect my children to work hard to earn my affection, too.

It’s despicable, and I have no defense.

But I want to be real. I want to let those of you who are considering adoption in on the secret I didn’t know beforehand–most of the adoptive parents I’ve talked to feel the same way in the beginning, some for years. The biggest exception here seems to be newborn adoption or adoption before the couple had biological children. Otherwise, most (not all) have struggled in this area at least for a time.

Honestly, though, even if I’d known, I’m sure in my pride I would have believed I was better than all of them. I know the gospel, unlike them. I have a ginormous heart for children, unlike them. I’m a better parent than they are. I have more experience. Yada yada yada. Once again, I’ve gotten to eat a big slice of humble pie.

My love for them is growing on the graph. You know the graph that dips and rises all over the place but is slowly rising over all? That would probably best describe it. At one point early on, I almost wouldn’t have been upset if something had fallen through and they wouldn’t have ended up as official Bells (yes, I’m determined to keep it real as hard as this is to type), but now I’d be devastated. Some days I feel like I could eat them up or hold them for hours on end. Some days mama bear comes out if one of them has had their feelings hurt. All this is confirmation to my heart that God is still working and perfect and loves them and loves me and won’t stop knitting us together.

But it’s a daily battle. Truly the hardest thing I’ve experienced. I can’t stand loving them differently. I’m impatient and want all the lovey dovey feelings to come now.

But I’m also more grateful than I can say that those feelings have yet to come.

I’m grateful because the passage above has hit me harder than ever before. If I’m having this difficult of a time loving little ones who have done nothing to be my enemy, how much greater of a love have I received from a God I have denied, spit upon, hated!? He made me his beloved child, adopted me as his own, while I hated him. He’s lovely, I’m unlovable, yet he loved me in a far deeper way than is possible to imagine. And he did it according to the pleasure of his will.

And because of that vast unfailing love, I can trust that he won’t abandon me, won’t stop growing me up to look more and more like him, won’t let his girl continue in sin. I can trust that he loves all my children perfectly where I love imperfectly, and he’ll grow them, too, in spite of their mother’s failures. He’ll even use my failures they see to show them more and more to never put their hope in anyone or anything besides him. And he’ll continue to show all of us that even the sin that stops us from loving well has been paid for on the cross, that we’ll never be able to do it on our own, and he’ll give us reason to rejoice in him once again.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Getting Real About Adoption

A year and a half ago, God placed two new children in our lives to adopt. A true answer to prayer, even prayers the Spirit was praying on my behalf that I didn’t know about.

Adoption is beautiful. Incredibly beautiful. And many books, articles, blogs, sermons, and conferences talk about it–the need for it, how Christians are called to it, the redemptive glory. All true.

There’s also the other side of adoption–the ugly brokenness. I figured I would have the courage to talk about this side a few years down the road, looking back giving wisdom.

But that’s not real. It’s not now. It doesn’t fit the theme of this blog. I’ve been silent because I’m scared. Scared to be too open, scared my son and daughter may read this in the future and be hurt by things I may say, scared to be corrected, scared of exposure.

Oh faithless woman! I forget so quickly how God is most glorified in my weakness because he gets to show off his strength. How the more sin I expose, the more his grace abounds. How God may use my struggles to encourage the heart of those mamas and daddys out there who are treading in the same waters we are, barely able to keep their noses above the surface. How he’s able to use the words of a sinful mother to teach and grow her precious children, that their hope won’t be in her but in Christ alone, that these words may even help them through their own adoption journey years down the road.

So over the next few weeks, I’m going to expose my heart, failings, and opinions about our adoption thus far. I’ve not read a single book on the topic in entirety, not attended a class beyond what was required for certification, and have barely even spoken to other adoptive parents for advice. This is simply a woman who had children she didn’t know thrown into her lap unexpectedly, who’s been struggling to survive the last year and a half as a result. This is me being real.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Happy Birthday, Courtney

My love,

As we’ve now had more than a year of the family tradition of writing birthday letters, it seems only right that I compose this one for you. These letters always seem to serve the dual purpose of remembering God’s goodness and saying a blessing for the coming year of life. There is much I have to say of both for you.

Looking back, it is clearer than the most perfect diamond that God our Father has been working all things together for good for you. The sweet little girl who grew up under her mother’s godly example, the years of shining in music, our path into a renewal of the gospel in our hearts, the addition of child upon child—what a ride! All of it has been part of the tapestry Dad has weaved of your life, whether painful or exhilarating or dull.

Still, what I find weird is how much harder each subsequent year is than the previous one. Sometimes I can’t decide if that’s good or bad—though ultimately I always lean on God’s goodness that it is, in fact, good. In particular, to say that adoption has owned almost every waking moment of the last year (plus!) is no exaggeration. As stupid as it sounds, I really expected that adoption would be so much easier than this. I thought with six bio kids under our belt, adopting more would be only marginally different.

I was far more than marginally wrong.

I say all of this because adoption is not just part of our family, but also part of our tapestry. In many ways, it’s overshadowed so much before it that I can scarcely remember those days. We’ve had to fight the good fight of faith together and that fight hasn’t always gone well. We’ve learned weakness in excruciatingly new ways.

But here enters the grace: for his grace is sufficient for us and his power is made perfect in weakness. We always knew that was true with your Crohn’s. Now we know it’s true as parents. Our weakness is a very real reminder of the great grace Dad gives us moment to moment to moment. So while the happily ever after of adoption doesn’t really seem attainable yet, I rejoice because the sufficiency of Jesus has been on display for us in a new array of colors.

That’s not the only thing worth remembering from the last year. God the Spirit has knit our church together in a way we’d always hoped would happen, but were beginning to despair never would. Yet it did. Those ladies are now your best friends. Our church is our family and the ones who are there for us in times of trouble and distress. How blessed we are to have that!

We also can’t forget to rejoice in God for his healing power: your Crohn’s is in remission! We never even thought of that as a possibility, but God gave us more than we could ever ask or imagine. And how cool to see the culmination of years of prayer, beginning with asking our elders at Cedar Grove to anoint you with oil and pray over you. God is far more faithful than we ever expect him to be.

The last year has been both hard and good, both discouraging and hopeful. Bittersweet. But any bitterness will one day be washed away in eternal light and joy. And until that day, there is joy to be had now as we rest in the finished work of Jesus to provide for us and sustain us.

I want to bless you as well. And there are some specific things I have in mind for you, as the Lord wills.

First, the Lord bless you in mothering all of your children together. May the struggles of adoption blur into the joyful struggles of motherhood. May this be the year when we see the family as the new whole it is.

Second, the Lord bless you in your friendships and fellowship. May the transitory and fragmented friendships of our whole lives transform into deeply rooted friendships with your sisters in Jesus. Overlook offenses. Find the good. Be quick to encourage. The Enemy would love to see the relationships you’ve built be torn down and trampled. May it never be so.

Third, the Lord bless your music. He gave you that musical mind, those vocal chords, that harmonic intuition. Some things may have been sitting on the shelf for a while, but it’s time to dust them off. You have my full confidence. I know you and know what you’re capable of. May God grant you humble success.

Lastly, the Lord bless your heart. The darkness has always chased you, but you have prevailed in Jesus. Truly, more and more all the time. But the Accuser rejoices to find new ways to coat his flaming darts with pitch. May the Lord hand you a new shield of faith each time the arsenal gets an upgrade. And may that shield never fail.

One last thing: I love you. I never tire of saying it. And I mean it more than ever. You captivate me and constantly surprise me. You make me smile and laugh and sing. You help me carry my burdens. You are the perfect fit for me. You’re lovely and vibrant and vivacious. I praise you in the gates (the interwebs are my gates) because you are strong and beautiful and holy. You are a blessing to each life you touch, mine more than any other.

Happy birthday, my heart.

Love,
BB